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Review Essay: 

Atlas of the Languages ofSuriname 

Edited by Eithne B. Carlin and Jacques Arends 

Published by KTTLV Press, Leiden, The 


ISBN 90 6718 196 X. Price: 37.50 Euros 


Janette Bulkan Forte 

Georgetown, Guyana 


2002 has been a landmark year for the 
publication of studies on the languages of the 
Guianas. In addition to the Atlas of the 
Languages of Suriname, volumes 26/27 of the 
journal Amerindia were issued, devoted to the 
languages of French Guiana. In Guyana, to 
which belongs the distinction of having "the 
highest number of Amerindian groups in one 
country in the entire Caribbean," (and the 
greatest indigenous population), and not 
Suriname, as asserted by Atlas editor, Carlin 
(43), publications during the year included a 
Scholar's Dictionary and Grammar of the 
Wapishana Language, and the on- going 
compilation into booklets of Makusi- English 
stories by Makusi teachers, disseminated also 
on Radio Paiwomak, a community radio 
station located in Annai, North Rupununi. 1 

More recent additions (2003) to 
publications on Makusi are Let's Read and 
Write Makusi: A Transition Manual and My 
First Grammar Book by Miriam Abbott. 
Some of the contributors to the Atlas (K. 
Boven, M. Patte) and Amerindia (F. Grenand, 
M. Patte, F. Queixalos, O. Renault- Lescure) 
were also contributors to a seminal collection 
of papers on indigenous languages of 
Amazonia, As linguas amazonicas hoje, that 
came out in 2000, and which included 
reviews of the status of indigenous languages 
in the three Guianas. 

Suriname' s linguistic diversity, 

however, encompasses not only Old and New 
World languages but seven original Creole 
languages. The Atlas's nine contributors 
comprehensively document this small 
nation's polyglot status. Nineteen languages 
survive in the present, though Carlin is not 
sanguine about the prospects for survival of 
four of the eight remaining Amerindian 

...Akuriyo, Tunayana, Sikiiyana and 
Mawayana will die out in the coming two 
or three decades, since they are no longer 
being transmitted to children. Rather, their 
children learn Trio, the dominant 
languages in the villages, Kwamalasamutu 
and Tepu, where these languages are 
spoken. [Carlin:43] 

It is a measure of the world dominance 
of the English language, however, that 
although it is not listed as one of Suriname' s 
19 languages, English is the medium for all 
11 essays/chapters in the Atlas. This is not 
hard to understand since, as the chapters by 
Arends, Smith and Bruyn document, the bulk 
of the vocabulary of 'Sranan tongo', 
Suriname' s lingua franca, and of four of the 
six Maroon languages, derives from the 
English language. In addition, English is 

KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology 
ISSN 1562-5028 URL: . Pps. 15. 
© 2003, Janette Bulkan Forte. All rights reserved. 

KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology, 2003 _ 

On television, programmes such as sports 
shows and the daily news are presented in 
Dutch, but foreign (especially North 
American) programmes are broadcast in 
the original language, that is, without any 
subtitling or synchronization. The effect of 
this situation has become evident over the 
last few years, since English is gaining 
popularity, and competence in English 
within the general Surinamese public has 
increased dramatically. [Carlin and 

Evidence of Suriname's linguistic 
diversity abounds in the pages of the Atlas. 
Another Atlas contributor, Tjon Sie Fat, 
declares that, "Paramaribo, with up to a dozen 
languages, is a sociolinguist's paradise. 
Sranan and Dutch dominate, with Dutch being 
used in formal and Sranan in informal 
situations. Stylistically simplified Sranan is 
also the main inter- ethnic language" (237). 

Both specialists and generalists 
interested in the history, culture and 
linguistics of the Guiana Shield countries will 
delight in the Atlas, since much of the 
information contained in this volume is not 
only pertinent to Suriname. Readers familiar 
with the pre- colonial and colonial history of 
the other nation states within this geopolitical 
region will note many parallels with 
Suriname's, and in this lies the Atlas' 
comparative value. The book also contains 20 
maps, and 50 photographs and illustrations, 
drawn from archival and contemporary 
sources, bibliographies, a glossary of 
linguistic terms and an index. It is an 
invaluable source of information for students 
and researchers, and Surinamese at home and 
in the diaspora, interested in their country's 
checkered history and its links with the 
circum- Caribbean area in general. 

The volume is divided into three parts, 
arranged chronologically from indigenous to 
invented and finally to imported and adapted 
languages. The first part consists of three 

chapters on the eight surviving Amerindian 
peoples and their languages; the four chapters 
in part two focus on the seven creole 
languages; while Part m contains four 
chapters on the four Eurasian languages. 

In the Introduction by Eithne B. Carlin 
and Jacques Arends, they explain that the aim 
of this volume is twofold: "first, to introduce 
the reader to the linguistic complexity that 
abounds in Suriname, and second, to afford 
him/her insight into the genesis, evolution, 
and salient linguistic features of the languages 
and language families that are represented 
there" (1). They note that while much has 
been written on Suriname, especially on its 
political and economic developments, "few 
exhaustive studies have been carried out on 
the multi- facetted cultural aspects of 
Suriname". In compiling this atlas, Carlin and 
Arends note, "the authors were often faced 
with gaps in information-only few of the 
Surinamese languages can boast a descriptive 
grammar or up-to-date dictionary" (1). The 
hope of the editors is that others will take it 
upon themselves to fill in these gaps by 
means of future research. 

Chapter I, The Native Population: 
Migrations and Identities by Eithne B. 
Carlin and Karin M. Boven is an historical- 
anthropological account of Suriname's first 
peoples. Through historical and ethnographic 
sources, they reconstruct and chronicle the 
indigenous experience from first Contact to 
the present. This opening chapter sets the 
stage for the more focused linguistic 
discussions of Cariban and Arawakan 
languages in the following two chapters. It is 
invaluable also for its comprehensive listing 
of sources for the early history of Suriname 
(and Guyana). The text is elegiac in parts- 
including a roll call of 13 named nations 
encountered by Europeans, but who did not 
survive "the collision of cultures" (12) and 
were rendered extinct by the 19 th century. 

Janette Bulkan Forte - Review Essay: Atlas of the Languages ofSuriname - 

Carlin and Boven trace the main lines of this 
collision, through which indigenous peoples 
here, as everywhere else, were destined to 
suffer the impact of colonialism, some of the 
survivors becoming its agents over time. 

On the Amerindian side, they learned 
from both first hand and related encounters to 
differentiate among the European nations 
seeking a foothold on the 'Wild Coast' as the 
Guiana shoreline was called. From the rate at 
which small European outposts were raided 
and razed by rivals, the Amerindians would 
have guessed that these skirmishes were part 
of a larger geopolitical battle, which they 
might have hoped to turn to their benefit. In 
Chapter IV, Arends mentions the so-called 
'Indian wars' (1678-1684) when "the 
Amerindians, sensing an opportunity to get 
rid of the colonizing power, started attacking 
them fiercely" (121). The colony was reduced 
to "a state of complete chaos" (122), giving 
an impetus to marronage in that period. 

However, the terms of trade, then and 
now, were stacked in favour of the 
economically powerful: non- timber forest 
products and gold ornaments, later 
Amerindian slaves, were bartered for 
European manufactured goods and trinkets, 
while at the same time, the traders were 
firmly establishing a more permanent 
foothold within indigenous territories, starting 
the process of displacement of local peoples 
that continues into the present. 

Marronage or the establishment of 
villages in the forest by escaped African 
slaves began in the 17 th century, also resulting 
over time in pushing Amerindian groups 
further inland. The Maroons monopolised 
trade between the interior Amerindians and 
the coastal Europeans and, in one of many 
fascinating vignettes in the Atlas, Carlin 
presents an excerpt from an almost extinct 
"pidgin language that was based on Ndyuka, 
itself a Creole language" which evolved in 
order to facilitate trading between the 
Maroons, and the Trio, Wayana, and Caribs" 

(24-25). Many invaluable excerpts by the 
leading authorities in the field are included as 
boxes in all chapters: in this chapter, one on 
ceremonial dialogue among the Trio, others 
on the classification of animal and vegetable 
food in Wayana, and participant identification 
in Carib. 

For the eight indigenous nations that 
have survived into the present, the colonial 
and post- colonial legacy has been bitter: 
displacement from their territories, socio- 
economic and political marginalisation, 
replacement of their belief systems by a 
proselytising Christian faith, disease, and, 
more recently, the futile war waged in the 
interior from 1986 to 1991, in which the 
Amerindians were used as pawns in a larger 
power struggle. The chapter hints at the 
limitations of development aid projects, and 
the continuing failure by the State to address 
the centuries- old demand for recognition of 
indigenous land rights. The pitfalls in 
attempting to communicate across languages 
and distinct philosophical systems, the 
disconnect between coastal and interior 
Amerindians, and the positioning of various 
interest groups makes for a fascinating read. 
For example, Carlin and Boven illustrate "a 
veritable Babel" that ensued at a meeting 
convened by the Government in 2000 to 
discuss the question of land rights: 

The Trio and Wayana formed one group 
with one spokesman, the granman 
(paramount chief) of the Trio. Indeed 
great was the shock and indignation when 
the president announced the granman of 
the Trio to be the head of all the 
Amerindians in Suriname, a decision that 
after the meeting was quickly reversed for 
the Kari'na and Arawaks. . . Since the Trio 
interpreters are more oompetent in Dutch 
than in Sranan, they used Dutch, which 
then had to be translated into Sranan 
before being translated into Ndyuka or 
Saramaccan for the Maroons who use less 
Dutch: the Trio, for example, in contrast 
to the Wayana, consider Sranan to be a 

KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology, 2003 _ 

low prestige language... The coastal 
Kari'na and Arawaks, with the exception 
of the leadership of the Amerindian 
organisations, are more competent in 
Sranan than Dutch. [41] 

One small correction should be made 
however: Note 45, on page 45 states that 
"Warao is, however, still spoken in Venezuela 
and possibly by a few old speakers in 
neighbouring Guyana." There are 

approximately 5,000 Warau in Guyana, of 
whom at least one- third speak their language. 

Chapter II, Patterns of language, 
patterns of thought: The Cariban 
languages, by Eithne B. Carlin is another of 
the many gems in this volume. It presents a 
synoptic overview of the six Cariban 
languages spoken in Suriname: Kari'na, Trio, 
Wayana, Akuriyo, Tunayana and Sikiiyana, 
and discusses the underlying philosophy and 
structural properties that distinguish the 34-60 
Cariban languages that have been studied. 
Carlin reminds us that areal culture patterns 
are not matched by linguistic similarities. The 
reader can marvel at the complex indigenous 
world in which very dissimilar languages are 
spoken by neighbouring groups, a 
phenomenon that is as true of coastal 
Amerindians (Arawaks and Kari'na and the 
now extinct Warao) as of the interior peoples. 

Carlin' s discussion of 'evidentiality, 
truth and knowledge,' and of the linguistic 
underpinning of indigenous philosophy 
should be read by anyone who questions the 
intrinsic value of preserving languages spoken 
by small numbers of marginalised indigenous 
people. In this world, a constant delicate 
balance has to be negotiated between the 
fierce individualism of autonomous adults and 
communal responsibility, all encoded in 
language. This essay complements Peter 
Riviere's groundbreaking corpus on lowland 
tropical Amazonian societies, and some of his 
insights are discussed by Carlin.»> 

The richness of Cariban languages, 
ranging from marking how an object is 
located in space, the expression of 
discrepancy between appearance and reality 
by means of a grammatical marker, the 
verbalising of nouns, the nominalising of 
verbs, the distinctions between a third person 
coreferential and non-coreferential possessive 
form, the marking of tense not only on verbs 
but on nouns and nominal subcategories, to 
sound symbolism are a treasure trove for 
linguist and layman alike. Consider the 
following linguistic feature of nouns, and its 
implications for the way the world is viewed: 

Thus while we easily assign to a noun in 
English such features as time -stable, 
concrete or abstract, a noun in the Cariban 
languages may have quite different 
properties, that is the semantic equivalents 
of many nouns are not definable in the 
same way. In these languages there exists 
an all-pervading idea of causation: objects 
do not just exist, they are caused to be 
there, or they are the result of a process: 
for example, where we see the noun 
phrase 'my child' as an entity in and of 
itself, the Trio, for one, see it as a result of 
the process of conceiving and giving birth 
and encode it accordingly as ji-n-muku 
(literally: my borne one). [50-51] 

The contrast with Indo-European 
languages and Western philosophical notions 
is most evident in notions of soul and being. 
Carlin provides the linguistic evidence to 
support the assertions of Viveiros de Castro 
(1998) on the integrity of the spirit/soul as the 
unifying element that is manifested in 
physical diversity. That is, the outer casing of 
an anima can have various forms, that of a 
human or of a range of animals. The 
ecological implications of a world view that is 
respectful of all manifestations of life are 
increasingly being explored by a range of 
disciplines, from natural resources 

management to medicine. 

Janette Bulkan Forte - Review Essay: Atlas of the Languages ofSuriname - 

Another minor caveat: Carlin's claim 
for Hixkaryana, ("Amazonian languages in 
general exhibit typological features that are 
found but seldom in the languages of the 
world - the Cariban language Hixkaryana of 
Brazil shot to fame because of its unusual 
basic word order, Object- Verb- Subject 
(OVS)" [47]) holds true also for Makushi, 
another Cariban OVS language spoken in 
Guyana and Brazil and described by Miriam 
Abbott (1991, see also Emanuele Amodio and 
Vicente Pira 1996). 

Chapter HI, The Arawak Language, 

by Marie- France Patte is a synchronic 
descriptive linguistic piece on the coastal 
Arawak (lokono) language. A final inset box 
on Mawayana is included: an Arawakan 
language discussed by Carlin. The two 
editors' notes at the end of the chapter are 
intriguingly cryptic, hinting at the battles that 
rage in the world of academia. Patte' s 
description is enriched by her on- going 
research among Arawak speakers in French 
Guiana and Guyana. Lokono Arawak is 
closely related to Garifuna, spoken in 
Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, and to 
Guajiro spoken in Venezuela (Payne:374). 
The geographical range of Arawakan 
languages extends from central America to 
Guana in Paraguay and Terena in southern 
Brazil. Patte concludes: 

The Arawak language, which was attested 
early on in the conquest is among the few 
survivors of the indigenous languages of 
the Caribbean area. It shows a rich 
grammatical structure and specific 
semantic categories that are prevalent in 
other Amazonian languages too. Its 
original predicative strategy, with 
different marking for the core arguments, 
appears to be sensitive to the active/stative 
parameter. The other participants, as well 
as the circumstantial complements, are 
introduced in the sentence by means of a 
postposed relational element, or relator. A 

basic word order can easily be identified, 
but it can be modified in various ways for 
discourse strategic purposes. [110] 

Chapter IV, The history of the 
Surinamese Creoles I: A sociohistorical 
survey by Jacques Arends moves the story to 
the sui generis Creole languages of Suriname, 
principally the development of Sranan, the 
lingua franca. The four chapters in this 
section are a must- read for any introductory 
class on the ethnogenesis of creole languages 
or on marronage in the New World. 
Remarkably, not one, but seven creole 
languages, were invented in Suriname, six by 
the Maroons or escaped African slaves, and 
one by plantation slaves. Here is Adrienne 
Bruyn's deft summary of the linguistic history 
of creole languages in Suriname: 

The various creole languages of Suriname 
are assumed to have a common origin in a 
contact language in use on the plantations 
in the coastal area of Suriname in the latter 
half of the 17 l century. The lexicon of this 
variety consisted for the larger part of 
words derived from English, or more 
specifically, 17 th century dialects of 
English. Over the course of time, it 
developed into present-day Sranan on the 
one hand, and, on the other hand, various 
language varieties spoken among Maroon 
or Bush Negro groups, made up of former 
slaves who had escaped from the 
plantations and settled in the forests of the 
interior. [155] 

Paralleling the chronology set out in 
the first chapter, the colonial history 
recounted in Chapters IV and V - that 
included traffic in human bodies, both 
Amerindian and African; the switch to an 
'agro- industrial economy' underpinned by a 
harsh slave labour system with resulting high 
mortality rates, insurrections and marronage; 
free movement of the planter class; extensive 
layovers in various ports by English sailors; 

KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology, 2003 _ 

and Moravian and other missionary activity - 
extended beyond the geographical boundaries 
of present day Suriname. Taken together, 
these chapters also provide a comprehensive 
listing of the major historical and linguistic 
sources on the period. 

The first settlers in Suriname date 
back to 1651 when 100 English settlers 
arrived from Barbados to begin a colony 
along the Suriname River. However, Africans 
were in Suriname before 1651-"In the first 
half of the 17 th century there were at least 13 
attempts at settlement in the 'greater Guiana' 
area" (115). In consequence, Arends 
hypothesises that "there is a possibility that 
some form of creole had started to develop 
prior to the arrival of the English in 1651" 
(116). Be that as it may, Arends notes that "as 
far as the lexicons of the Surinamese Creoles 
are concerned, it is an undisputed fact that 
English has played a major role in their 
composition. The proportion of English- 
derived basic vocabulary has been calculated 
at some 75% for Sranan and some 50% for 
Saramaccan" (117). The Portuguese-based 
lexical element in the Surinamese Creoles... 
has been calculated at some 4% for Sranan 
and some 35% for Saramaccan (118). 

Among the many linguistic and other 
influences on creole languages mentioned are 
regional dialects of English until the 1690s, 
Sephardic Jews from Brazil, Guyana and 
Europe between 1665 and 1667, the Dutch 
religious sect, the Labadists, and French 
Huguenots. In terms of the Jewish 

population, Arends notes, "from the 1670s 
until the second half of the 18 th century, the 
Jews formed no less than one -third of the 
entire European population" (119). Although 
the Dutch conquered the colony in 1667, the 
Dutch did not form a majority of the 
European population until well into the 19 th 
century. English continued to be spoken until 
well into the 18 th century, and, as mentioned 
earlier, English sailors apparently spent 
considerable periods in Suriname. 

While European languages influenced 
the lexicon, African languages spoken along 
the Slave Coast (the coastal areas of Togo, 
Benin and Eastern Ghana) and 'Loango' (the 
coastal areas of Zaire, Congo and Northern 
Angola) provided the template of the creole 
languages. Arends notes that in an eight-year 
period, the slave population had increased 
ten-fold: in 1683, there were an estimated 
1,000 African slaves in Suriname. By 1691, 
almost 10,000 more had been transported to 
Suriname. The forced system of labour made 
Suriname (and all plantation colonies) a 
veritable death factory: while an estimated 
215,000 Africans were transported to 
Suriname between 1651 and 1830, the Black 
population did not exceed 50,000 at the time 
of emancipation in 1863. Arends writes that 
"even as late as 1750, three out cf every four 
blacks in Suriname (apart from the Maroons) 
had been bom in Africa. This means that one 
hundred years after the beginning of the 
colony, Sranan was still a second rather than a 
first language for three quarters of the 
population" (123). Given this rate of 
population turnover, it was no wonder that "in 
the early 18 th century, Sranan had not yet 
crystallized into a fully stabilized creole" 
(124), a development Arends dates to around 

The uniqueness of Suriname is that 
while slavery was equally harsh everywhere, 
Maroons established successful strongholds in 
the Guiana forests. The existence of Maroons 
in the Suriname interior was recorded from 
the 1670s. In 1700 there were an estimated 
1,000 Maroons, a number that had increased 
to an estimated 6,000 by 1750. By 1765, the 
Maroons had been pacified and peace treaties 
signed. From that time on, the reporting of 
escaped slaves became obligatory. 
Emancipation did not come for Surinamese 
slaves until 1863, thirty years after abolition 
in the English colonies. 

There are many similarities between 
the colonial history of Dutch and British 

Janette Bulkan Forte - Review Essay: Atlas of the Languages ofSuriname - 

Guiana - including the system of sugar 
production based on plantation slavery, 
Moravian missionary work among indigenous 
and later other groups in both colonies, the 
importation of indentured labour from Asia 
(which began earlier in British Guiana), and 
the declaration of compulsory primary 
education in 1876 in both territories. On that 
date, Dutch was officially designated as the 
language of instruction in Surinamese 
schools. Between the 1880s and 1940s, an 
'anti-Sranan' campaign was in force, 
reinforcing the language's low social status. 
In 1954, Suriname was granted partial 
autonomy, followed in 1975 by independence. 
An exodus of 200,000 Surinamese to Holland 
followed, and the import of that development 
for language change is explored in Part HI of 
the Atlas. 

Chapter V, The history of the 
Surinamese Creoles II: Origin and 
Differentiation by Norval Smith is written in 
a didactic 'Frequently Asked Questions' style. 
It covers the same ground as the preceding 
chapter, but assumes the stance of an 
investigative reporter on the issue of the 
putative origins of these Creole languages. It 
also alludes to some scholarly disagreements. 
Both writers explore the genesis of Sranan: 
Arends sees it as sui generis, emerging in 
Suriname, while Smith explores the 
sociohistorical context in more detail. Smith 
posits that Sranan had its roots in a pan- 
Caribbean English- derived pidgin, containing 
African lexical items, that was creolised 
during the 30 years between 1651 and 1680. 
He supports his arguments for an original 
pidgin language by referring to the use of 
Kari'na by the earliest group of Maroons 
(around 1660), and a parallel phenomenon in 
the genesis of the Garifuna language, 
originally of St Vincent, but now spoken by 
the transported Garifuna population in Central 
America. All this scholarly speculation 

suggests that the jury is still out on whether 
the substrate language of these Creoles was 
English or African. 

Smith has an investigator's bent, and 
comes up with racy formulations, enclosed in 
quotation marks, perhaps because his 
hypotheses are not yet part of the dominant 
narrative: in addition to 'Caribbean Plantation 
Pidgin English,' 'Ingredient X' is the term he 
uses to describe 'a sizable group of African 
lexical items', and so on. Smith posits that 
Sranan, 'Jamaican Maroon Spirit Language' 
and Krio in Sierra Leone are all derived from 
'Caribbean Plantation Pidgin English' (134). 
He argues: 

Virtually all the Creoles spoken in the 
Caribbean area, together with Guyanese, 
and the various Creoles of Suriname, share 
such a number of striking features of 
grammar, phonology and lexicon, that 
these parallels cannot be explained as 
accidental. [134] 

The two writers also disagree on the 
provenance of the Jewish migration into 
Suriname, with Smith maintaining that the 
linguistic evidence points to Pernambuco in 
Brazil being the point of origin. He argues 
convincingly that "a solid linguistic piece of 
evidence must always take precedence over a 
sociohistorical construct" (137), particularly 
since archival sources are few. Smith sets out 
the seven named forms of Creole, into three 

1. the language of the former plantation 
area - Sranan; 

2. the language of Maroons who fled 
between 1712 and 1800 - Ndyuka, 
Aluku, Paramaccan and Kwinti; and 

3. the language of Maroons who fled 
between 1690 and 1710 - Saramaccan 
and Matawai. 

Saramaccan and Matawai described by Smith 
as 'Western Maroon' languages have many 

KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology, 2003 _ 

words derived from Portuguese, while the 
other four, 'Eastern Maroon' languages, 
closely resemble each other and are also 
referred to as Ndyuka (155). 

Smith lists two other Maroon groups: 
Karboegers later called Muraato, who spoke 
Kari'na (the first Maroon group) and Brosu- 
nengre or Brooskampers. Smith notes that the 
word kabiigru was glossed in a 1779 
Saramaccan vocabulary as 'nation living on 
the Coppename, which is derived from 
Indians and Negroes' (142), and that its 
etymology perhaps goes back to a Tupi word. 
Corroboration for its Brazilian derivation 
comes from the fact that this word also 
appears in a number of travellers' accounts of 
the interior peoples on the British 
Guiana/Brazil frontier, and was used to 
describe the same inter- ethnic mixture. 
'Cobungrus' were described by Everard Im 
Thurn as "half-breeds between negroes and 
Indians... These latter retain the many good 
qualities of the Indian, and to these they add 
the few good qualities, such as physique and 
strength of the West Indian negro" (1883: 8). 
Im Thurn' s unabashed racism was common in 
the writings of the colonial period. 

Chapter VI, the structure of the 
Surinamese Creoles by Adrienne Bruyn is an 
excellent linguistic piece in which she focuses 
on "the historical orgins of the lexicon and to 
structural aspects in which the Creoles differ 
from their main lexifier language, English, 
while occasionally pointing out similarities 
with the main African sub-strate languages- 
Gbe and Kikongo" (p, 154-155). As might be 
expected, Amerindian words for items of 
material culture and biodiversity were 
adopted into the creole languages. She 
demonstrates, however, that these creole 
languages, whether English or Portuguese- 
influenced, have very similar syntactic 
structures. Bruyn also alludes to Guyanese 
creolese: "another English-based creole 

spoken by a substantial number of people in 
Suriname" (156), particularly in the western 
rice growing district of Nickerie. 

Bruyn' s text is rich with examples that 
illustrate how "as a result of the interplay of 
simplification of the lexifier input, 
phonological characteristics of the African 
substrate languages, and internal 

developments, the phonological shapes of 
words in the present-day creole languages 
often differ considerably from the source 
forms" (162). She, and other contributors 
allude often to the fluid language situation 
that prevails in Suriname: 

In the languages as they are spoken today, 
it is not always easy to distinguish 
between full borrowing, involving 
established incorporation and adaptation 
of a word from another language - be it 
Dutch, English, Sarnami, Guyanese, or 
any other language - and code -mixing, 
where, rather, a speaker uses a word or a 
larger unit from another language 
incidentally and without fully adapting it 
to the phonological and morphological 
rules of the recipient language. [165] 

Bruyn concludes: 

Influence from the substrate languages 
appears undeniable, not only with regard 
to vocabulary and phonology but also 
certain aspects of morphology and syntax. 
That is not to say, however, that the creole 
languages are more or less straightforward 
continuations of substrate languages, just 
as they are not straightforward 
continuations of the lexifier languages. 
They are new languages, created around 
items deriving from the lexifier languages 
but lending those items new functions. 
The substrate languages may have 
provided models for certain aspects of the 
grammar and the function words playing a 
role therein, but they constitute only one 
component in the linguistic edifice 
constructed by people who were in need 
of a new language as part of a new culture 

Janette Bulkan Forte - Review Essay: Atlas of the Languages ofSuriname - 

because they had been torn away from 
their own. [181] 

Chapter VII, Young languages, old 
texts: Early documents in the Surinamese 
Creoles by Jacques Arends is a bibliophile's 
delight. Its documentation of the admirable 
linguistic work in Sranan and Saramaccan of 
the Herrnhuter or Moravian Brethren, 
particularly Christian Schumann, 

complements the work on the Guyana side of 
the late Joel Benjamin (1988, 1991). These 
Moravian missionaries, a German- speaking 
group of dissenting Protestants, 

came to Suriname in 1735, during the first 
three decades they confined their 
missionary activities to the Amerindian 
population, extending it to the Saramaka 
Maroons in 1765 and to the slave 
population even later. As a prerequisite for 
their missionary work they not only 
learned the local languages but they also 
translated religious texts and compiled 
dictionaries and grammars. As a result, 
they left us an extremely valuable legacy 
of documents in and on the Surinamese 
creole languages, from the second half of 
the 18 th century onwards. [183] 

Arends also pays tribute to three 
visionaries in this story: the missionary 
Schumann in the 18 th century, the Moravian 
convert, Johannes King in the 19 th century 
and teacher Jacques 'Papa' Koenders in the 
20 th century. On Schumann's pioneering 
linguistic insights, Arends writes that, 

He was ahead of his time in using native 
speaker informants for his lexicographical 
work. He was also a very acute observer 
of sociolinguistic phenomena, which 
appears from his observations on the 
differences between nengre tongo and 
bakra tongo, between the urban and the 
rural varieties, and between the language 
of the older and more recently established 
plantations. Apart from his gift for 

sociolinguistic observation, Schumann 
also had a keen insight into purely 
linguistic phenomena. To give just one 
example, he was the first to observe the 
phenomenon of logophoricity in Sranan, 
something which seems to have gone 
completely unnoticed ever since. Put 
simply, a logophoric language uses two 
different pronouns to indicate whether the 
subject of a main clause containing a verb 
of saying is identical to the subject of the 
embedded clause or not. [192-3] 

Arends notes further that "logophoric 
pronouns are also a feature of Ewe, the major 
West African language spoken by slaves 
brought to Suriname" (193). 

The reader too can contemplate with 
respect Johannes King (c. 1830-1890), 

the first truly Surinamese author... a 
mixed Matawai-Ndyuka Maroon who 
became a member of the Moravian Church 
in 1861. King, who reputedly taught 
himself how to read and write, is a most 
intriguing figure, standing with one foot in 
the world of Christianity and with the 
other in that of Maroon culture. In his 
writings, parts of which have been 
published, King deals not only with the 
story of his life, travel reports, and 
Maroon history, but also... with more 
personal topics such as his dreams and 
visions. He also wrote a Dresi boekoe 
'Book of medicine', a book which is still 
privately owned, which includes secret 
knowledge of certain medicinal herbs and 
plants. [197] 

In this chapter, Arends also presents 
excerpts from texts from the late 17 th to the 
early 20 th century left by travellers, colonial 
administrators, soldiers, planters, poets, even 
some Maroons and slaves. There is also the 
iconoclastic African Surinamese teacher, 
Jacques 'Papa' Koenders, who challenged the 
social stigmatization of Sranan, which 
continued until after the Second World War, 

KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology, 2003 _ 


in his monthly publication, Foetoeboi, a one- 
man production written in Sranan (129, 189). 

Part HI. The Eurasian languages. 

The linguistic and social history of the 
Eurasian languages presented in Part in 
display many fascinating similarities. As with 
the creole languages, all four - Surinamese 
Dutch, Kejia, Sarnami Hindi and Javanese - 
are regarded as inferior to the mother tongues, 
particularly by their own speakers. 
Nevertheless, the contributors in this section 
show that these are all languages in their own 
right, spoken today by significant minorities 
or, as in the case of Surinamese Dutch, as a 
second language acquired in school by all 

Between 1863 and 1942 some 70,000 
Asian contract labourers were brought to 
Suriname, only a minority of whom returned 
to their home countries after their contracts 
had expired (127). Dutch colonialism was 
tolerant when compared with the British 
variety so the story of commercial and socio - 
cultural associations, education and schools 
and publications in these imported Asian 
languages will remind readers in the English 
speaking Caribbean of how hegemonic and 
narrow minded British colonialism was in 
comparison. The influence of Suriname' s 
other languages, particularly Sranan on 
Surinamese Dutch, and such sociolinguistic 
processes as 'levelling', 'simplification' and 
code switching are explored in these chapters. 
Sarnami and Javanese show minimal 
influences from Sranan or Dutch: these were 
the latest migrations, dating from the 1870s to 
the beginning of the Second World War, and 
their speakers tended to be isolated in discrete 
rural, agricultural settings in coastal 

Today, the Asian languages are 
spoken by sizable minorities: the Sarnami- 
speaking population is estimated to be 
between 180,000, and 230,000 in both 

Suriname and The Netherlands; the Javanese 
Surinamese population was 62,000 in 1997, 
or 14% of the population of Suriname; while 
the number of Kejia speakers in Suriname 
today is estimated to be 6,000 out of 12,000 
ethnic Chinese. Wolfowitz's summary of the 
situation of Surinamese Javanese resonates 
with that of the other language groups, as 
detailed in these chapters: 

For the Javanese speakers of Suriname, 
the repertoire of Javanese speech style 
forms only a part of the total speech 
repertoire. Sranan, the English-based 
creole language, is used for most dealings 
outside the Javanese community, and most 
of the young-adult generation also use 
Dutch, having learned it in school. The 
use of Javanese thus represents a choice 
among alternative codes. As in the case of 
immigrant groups elsewhere, the use of 
the 'home language', in any politeness 
style, itself expresses a sense of 
community, an echo of close politeness. In 
business and official settings, typically 
associated with a distant-polite style of 
speaking, Dutch or Sranan is normally 
required (particularly, of course, if non- 
Javanese speakers are present). 
Conversely, to senior kin, or Active kin, 
appropriate respect requires the use of 
Javanese, even if at the most minimal 
level of respect style. [277] 

Chapter VIII, Surinamese Dutch, by 

Christa de Kleine is as much sociological as 
linguistic as it turns the lens on issues of class 
and urban/rural divides, 'old' families 
speaking Dutch versus Asian newcomers 
speaking Chinese, Hindi and Javanese, and 
the place of the mother tongue in this story 
from 1667 to the present. De Kleine argues 
that Surinamese Dutch (SD) is a truly distinct 
language variety in its own right, with its own 
distinct grammar, phonology, pronunciation 
and semantics. She lists the contributing 
factors - not only geographical distance from 

Janette Bulkan Forte - Review Essay: Atlas of the Languages ofSuriname - 


the mother tongue, but the influence of 
Surname's highly multilingual environment, 
and the fact that Surinamese Dutch is an 
acquired second (or third) language for many 
speakers. Wisely, the Ministry of Education 
declared Dutch officially to be a second 
language in schools and urged educators to 
treat it as such (216), an approach that should 
be emulated in neighbouring Guyana with 
respect to English. 

In common with most of the 
contributors to this volume, she combines 
history and linguistics in a seamless narrative. 
We learn that throughout most of the 17 th and 
18 th century, Sranan, and not Dutch, was used 
as the medium of social interaction by most of 
the nationally diverse white population. 
Dating from late in this period, however, use 
of Dutch became a marker of social class, 
particularly among the growing numbers of 
free Blacks and Mixed people. By the 19 th 
century, "an elite social class had started to 
form among the non- whites, who without any 
doubt were native speakers not only of 
Sranan, but also of Dutch" (213). After the 
introduction of compulsory primary education 
in 1876, Dutch was made the only medium of 
instruction in schools, accelerating the 
process of structural influences from the other 
languages, particularly Sranan, on Dutch as 
well as "features typically associated with 
second language learning" (214). 

At the same time, de Kleine outlines 
the hegemonic role of Dutch in Suriname, 
reinforced among other ways by the large 
Surinamese diaspora in The Netherlands, 
transmission of Dutch television and radio 
programmes and tertiary education in Europe. 

Chapter IX, Kejia: A Chinese 
language in Suriname by Paul Brendan Tjon 
Sie Fat moves the story from Europe to Asia, 
and the place of the more recent incoming 
languages in the Surinamese patchwork. His 
essay concentrates on distinct waves of 

Chinese migration in the 19 th and 20 th 
centuries while providing at the same time 
confirmation of de Kleine' s arguments on the 
indexing of class by language use, code 
switching and the ghettoized nature of in- 
group use of ethnic languages. In his words, 

The other languages are virtually only 
spoken by members of different ethnic 
groups, and are often used to define ethnic 
identity. However, language contact 
among the various groups in Paramaribo is 
not uniform. The upper classes mix freely, 
but outside of the elite, social relations 
tend to remain within the ethnic grou 
Chinese are very often treated as 
foreigners with no particular bond with 
Suriname, other than economic. [237] 

The Chinese for the most part are described as 
detached from the class consciousness of 
Paramaribo. They are "not interested in 
acquiring Dutch, since they are focussed on 
the social order of Chinese culture rather than 
on social mobility within Surinamese society 
as a whole" (237). They learn Sranan and 
code- switch in a multi- lingual context. 

The first wave of overseas Chinese in 
Suriname tended to come from the provinces 
of Fujian and Guangdong. Most of them were 
of Hakka origin and many still speak Kejia, 
the Chinese language strongly associated with 
the Hakka ethnic group (233). Chinese 
migration from the Middle Kingdom had been 
impelled by economic and social upheavals in 
the homeland: 

In China, the period of the 1850s and 
1860s was dominated by the Second 
Opium War (1856-1860) and the Taiping 
Rebellion (1851-1864). Faced with such 
social conditions, in the 19 th century about 
two and a half million Chinese left China 
for overseas destinations. While the vast 
majority migrated to South East Asia, 
about 270,000 went to Latin America and 
the Caribbean as indentured labourers; 87 
% of these went to Cuba and Peru, while 6 

KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology, 2003 _ 


% went to Panama, Costa Rica, the Dutch 
and French Caribbean, Brazil and other 
places. [233] 

The Chinese were the first Asian 
immigrants into Suriname following 
Emancipation, a trajectory similar to 
Guyana's, one important difference being that 
abolition had been decreed thirty years earlier 
in the British overseas colonies. As in 
Guyana, the Chinese did not remain on the 
plantations, quickly moving into commercial 

The planned abolition of slavery in 
Suriname in 1863 made it necessary to 
find ways to make up for the predicted 
labour shortage on the sugar plantations, 
sugar being the main crop there. 
Indentured labour was considered the 
solution, and a number of unsuccessful 
trials were made with labourers of a 
number of different nationalities. As a 
result of privatization of labour 
recruitment in 1862, at that time China 
remained as the sole source of indentured 
labour for Suriname. More than 2,500 
Chinese were brought to Suriname 
between 1853 (the year of the first 
experiments with Chinese indentured 
labour from Java) and 1870. Virtually all 
of the first immigrants were men, and all 
were assigned to the sugar plantations. 
Chinese indentured labour in Suriname 
was stopped in 1870 because most 
migrants failed to extend their contracts, 
and none of those who stayed in Suriname 
worked in agriculture... Those who stayed, 
moved to the capital Paramaribo, and 
many took wives from other ethnic 
groups, in particular from the majority 
Creole sector. While some sent their sons 
to Guangdong to receive a Chinese 
education, most of the children from these 
mixed marriages were absorbed into the 
urban Creole group, starting the long 
ethnic association of Creoles and Chinese 
in Suriname. [233-4] 

The majority of former British 
colonial subjects will probably involuntarily 
compare the results of the rigid imposition of 
monolingualism by the British on their 
subjects to Tjon Sie Fat's summary of 
Chinese migration in the 1870-1939 period, a 
comparison in which the British experience 
falls far short of Dutch tolerance across the 
Corentyne River. In Suriname, on the other 

After 1870, a broader migration of Suriname took hold. The 
Chinese community in Suriname grew 
through chain migration from a core of 
indentured labourers... By the time of the 
Japanese invasion of China, before World 
War II, a thriving Chinese speaking 
community existed in Suriname. This can 
be inferred from the fact that Chinese 
script was used on gravestones and 
Chinese was spoken during funeral 
ceremonies, and from the existence of 
Chinese commercial and socio -cultural 
associations, Chinese churches, Chinese- 
language education (written Chinese, 
taught in the Kejia vernacular) for Chinese 
children in Chinese schools, Chinese- 
language media, and at least two 
consecutive generations with a basic 
passive and active knowledge of Kejia. 
Due to the chaos before World War U, 
migration to Suriname came to a virtual 
halt, and from then on Surinamese 
Chinese became relatively isolated from 
linguistic and cultural developments in 
China, in particular those in the eastern 
Pearl River Delta. [234-5] 

Suriname and Guyana have had the 
same experience with the most recent waves 
of Chinese immigration which began between 
1963 and 1970. This grew mainly through 
immigration from southern China via Hong 
Kong, and up to 1968, 

as many as one in twenty Chinese in 
Suriname was an immigrant. Many 
immigrants viewed Suriname as a 

Janette Bulkan Forte - Review Essay: Atlas of the Languages ofSuriname - 


stopover on the way to other places... It 
was not uncommon for newcomers to 
identify themselves as Cantonese speakers 
in order to differentiate themselves from 
the local, older settled group of Hakka. 

The Peoples Republic of China eased 
barriers to emigration in the 1980s, at the time 
of the economic reforms, as a result of which, 
"Chinese immigration to Suriname increased 
sharply in the 1990s, and Chinese immigrants 
to Suriname were no longer exclusively 
Hakka... the number of non- Hakka ethnic 
Chinese in Suriname is growing... While 
Kejia remains the dominant Chinese language 
in Suriname, Mandarin (the mainland Chinese 
standard, Guoyu) is now increasingly used as 
a lingua franca within the Surinamese 
Chinese community, due to the significant, 
and apparently growing number of speakers 
of several other Chinese languages and 
dialects..." (236). 

The cultural hegemony of closer links 
with the mother country prevails in the case 
of Chinese languages, as with European 
Dutch, and Sarnami Hindi. Cantonese, the 
language of the newcomers, has now 
superceded Kejia as "the public medium 
during gatherings and cultural events of 
ethnic Hakkas in Suriname" (237). 

Chapter X, Sarnami as an 
immigrant koine by Theo Damsteegt is a 
fascinating account of East Indian migration 
to Suriname: 

Between 1873 and 1916, some 34,000 
indentured labourers left northern India 
for Suriname... the labourers brought with 
them several mutually related languages 
(or dialects) from their home country, 
amongst which Bhojpuri, Magahi and 
Avadhi. The ensuing interaction among 
these migrants gave rise to a process of 
mixing of the different languages that 
were their mother tongues, a process that 

eventually resulted in a new, stabilised 
language which is not identical to any 
language in India, and which nowadays is 
called Sarnami Hindi or Sarnami 
Hindustani. [249] 

Sarnami is a koine type of language 
because it is "characterized ... by a mixture of 
forms of relatively closely related Indie 
languages. Koine is defined by Jeff Siegel as 
"a stable linguistic variety which results from 
contact between varieties which are 
subsystems of the same linguistic system" 
(254). The study of Sarnami and other koines 
provides linguists with clues on language 
formation and evolution. Neither Sranan nor 
Dutch is found to have had much influence on 
the early development of Sarnami though 
there is intensive code- switching in present 
day usage. 

According to Damsteegt, from the mid 
1970s, Sarnami speakers in The Netherlands 
have been promoting its use "in more formal 
language domains, for example, in written 
fictional and non- fictional texts" (251). 

This chapter also includes a Box on 
the Telugu- speaking Madraji who comprised 
a minority of the Indian immigrants to both 
Dutch and British Guiana. Their language was 
unintelligible to the Hindi- speaking majority, 
and it died out after two generations. In 
Suriname most Madraji converted to 

Chapter XI, Javanese speech styles 
in Suriname by Clare Wolfowitz gives us a 
privileged peek into the complex, esoteric 
world of Javanese, with its extensive 
repertoire of 'ordinary' versus 'polite' speech 
styles, and the many-nuanced distinctions and 
levels between mere 'speaking' and 

Javanese immigration into Suriname 
began in 1890 and continued until 1939. The 
move was essentially from one village context 
to another and Wolfowitz argues that the less 

KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology, 2003 _ 


extensive range of their current speech styles 
probably reflects the more egalitarian context 
of village life in Java and Suriname as much 
as the half century's isolation from the mother 
country. In her words, "we perhaps see the 
use of speech styles fulfilling their core social 
function - that of defining and ordering the 
relationships of family, household, and 
neighbourhood" (280). 

A good place to end this review is by 
presenting one final illustration from 
Wolfowitz of the use of linguistics in social 
positioning and in- group jostling, as the local 
and the global increasingly converge and 

The most striking feature of Javanese 
cultural conservatism, however, has to do 
with religious practice. The first mosques 
built by Surinamese Javanese immigrants 
were unadorned rectangular structures 
which faced, not eastward toward Mecca, 
but westward - that is, as mosques in Java 
are oriented. In the 1960s, the worldwide 
movement toward 'purer' Islamic practice 
had its impact on Surinamese Javanese 
religious life, and reformist groups built 
temples of their own which faced 
eastward, while adopting at the same time 
more orthodox Muslim forms of prayer. 
The relationship between the traditional 
Javanese mosques and the reformist 
mosques was characterized by mutual 
disdain and sometimes overt hostility. 
Language, too, participates in this 
religious division: while the reformist 
mosques emphasize the use of Arabic in 
prayer, the conservative, west-facing 
mosques pray using an old-fashioned 
literary Javanese, almost as impenetrable 
to the congregation as Arabic would be. 
For these conservative adherents, the 
Muslim rituals function not only as a form 
of religious worship but also as a gesture 
of devotion to the homeland. [266] 

The Atlas is an excellent omnibus 
volume for anyone interested in Suriname in 
particular or, more generally, in exploring the 

linguistic responses of the subaltern colonised 
world to the colonial project of domination. 
For the English-reading world, it offers an 
unparalleled view through a linguistic 
exploration of this local to global trajectory, 
set in one of the world's lesser studied and 
traversed places, the ancient pre- Cambrian 
landscape of the Guiana Shield. 

If you want to order this publication, please 


KITLV Press 

Mrs E. Sitinjak 

PO Box 9515 

2300 RA Leiden 

The Netherlands 

Tel: (31)-715272372 


1. Guyana is home to nine Amerindian 
nations, totalling over 50,000 persons, as 
compared with Suriname' s 10,000. This 
includes 6 surviving Carib- speaking 
peoples, whose population numbers 
follow their names (Makusi 9,000; 
Patamona 5,000; Karinya 5,000; Akawaio 
5,000; Arekuna 500 and Waiwai 200), 2 
Arawakan- speaking peoples (Lokono 
Arawaks 15,500 and Wapishana 7,000) 
and Warau 5,000 . 


Abbott, Miriam. 1991. "Makushi". Desmond 
C. Derbyshire and Geoffrey K. Pullum, eds. 
Handbook of Amazonian Languages, Volume 
3. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 

2003. Let 's Read and Write 

Makusi: A Transition Manual. Georgetown: 

Janette Balkan Forte - Review Essay: Atlas of the Languages of Surinam - 


Guyana Book Foundation and North 
Rupununi District Development Board. 

2003. My First Grammar Book. 

Georgetown: Guyana Book Foundation and 
North Rupununi District Development Board 
[in press]. 

Amerindia. 2002. Langues de Gayane. Paris: 
L' Association d'Ethnolinguistique 
Amerindienne (A.E.A.) 

Amodio, Emanuele and Vicente Pira. 1996. 
Lingua Makuxi, Makusi Maimu. Roraima, 

Benjamin, Joel. 1988. "The Arawak (Lokono) 
Language: The Contribution of Anglican and 
Pymouth Brethren Missionaries to its Study 
and Documentation in Guyana (1834- 1870s)". 
Proceedings of the Conference on the 
Arawaks of Guyana 34-43. Georgetown: 
University of Guyana. 

1991. "The Arawak Language in 

Guyana and Adjacent Territories". Journal of 
Archaeology and Anthropology 8: 7- 1 12. 
Georgetown: Walter Roth Museum of 
Archaeology and Anthropology. 

Carlin, Eithne B. and Jacques Arends, Eds. 
2002. Atlas of the Languages of Suriname. 
Leiden: KJTLV Press. 

Im Thum, Everard F. 1967 [1883]. Among the 
Indians of Guiana. New York: Dover 
Publications, Inc. 

Payne, David L. 1991. "Maipuran 
(Arawakan) Classification". Desmond C. 
Derbyshire and Geoffrey K. Pullum, eds. 
Handbook of Amazonian Languages, Volume 
3. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 

Queixalos, F. and O. Renault- Lescure. 2000. 
As linguas amazonicas hoje. Sao Paulo: 
Institute) Socioambiental. 

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 1996. "Images 
of Nature and Society in Amazonian 
Ethnology". Annual Review of Anthropology 
25: 179-200. 

1998. "Cosmological Deixis and 

Amerindian Perspectivism". The Journal of 
the Royal Anthropological Institute 4(3): 469- 

Wapishana Language Project. 2000. Scholar 's 
Dictionary and Grammar of the Wapishana 
Language. Porto Velho, Brazil: SIL 

About the Reviewer: 

Janette Bulkan Forte is an anthropologist with 25 years' work experience in Social Forestry, Participatory Community 
Development, teaching and diplomacy. She has a Masters' degree from the University of Texas at Austin in anthropology and 
linguistics. She served fir three years as Senior Social Scientist with the Iwokrama International Programme for Rainforest 
Conservation and Development in Guyana until March 2003. She is currently involved with various voluntary organisations, 
including serving as Chairperson of the Guyana National Initiative for Forest Certification (GNIFC) and as a Trustee for the 
North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB), an indigenous Community-Based Organisation which represents the 
people of 14 North Rupununi villages. She is also a volunteer consultant with a Bilingual Education Programme that links the 
Ministry of Education, the NRDDB, linguists and a funding agency in a joint effort to promote Makusi literacy in village schools. 
Janette Bulkan Forte is also a volunteer lecturer at the University of Guyana since 2000 where she teaches a course on indigenous 
peoples of Guyana. She is also on the editorial board of this same Journal, and can be reached at: i anetteforte @ . 

Book received: 21 February, 2003 
First draft of review produced: 16 May, 2003 
Editorial revisions completed: 20 May, 2003 
Review published: 20 May, 2003